How Kids in Rwanda Taught Me the Power of Giving

by | Jan 18, 2012 | Character and Moral Intelligence, Empathy and Kindness

Education has always been a passion of mine. Moral development and nurturing children’s compassion and empathy are the essence of my work. So when General Mills asked me if I’d like to be a spokesperson for its Betty Crocker Fruit Flavored Snacks “Win & Give” campaign, I jumped at the opportunity. This campaign gives kids in the U.S. the opportunity to win a XO laptop from the non-profit One Laptop per Child (OLPC) and triggers a donation of the same laptop to kids in Africa. Through this program, it’s easy to get kids involved in giving back and recognize they can be heroes and make a difference.

The most amazing part of working with Betty Crocker Fruit Flavored Snacks was that I would be able to travel to Rwanda with several General Mills employees and employees of OLPC to help deliver XO laptops and backpacks filled with much-needed school supplies. I was excited to have the opportunity to witness the incredible impact these computers have on the lives of kids in Africa and the power of giving back.

In case you’re not familiar, Rwanda is a small landlocked East African nation (sometimes considered part of central Africa) slightly larger than Vermont and the most densely populated African country. This beautiful country also experienced the unspeakable horrors of genocide in 1994. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in just one hundred days.  Imagine!

A UNICEF study found that five out of six children who had been in Rwanda during the slaughter had, at very least, witnessed bloodshed. My heart hurt for the Rwandan children, the same Rwandan children who so captured my heart.

I was in Rwanda for a week and during that time, visited hundreds of children at several local schools both giving laptops and also checking in on schools that had already received them. I also helped give out backpacks that were packed with goodies by kids in the U.S. The backpacks included a notebook, a pencil, gum, a ruler and a note from the student in the U.S. that filled the backpack at an event in August. But more on that note a little later.

It’s important for you to understand how different the Rwandan school experience is than that of children in the US. When we got to the schools, I noticed while their classrooms do have electricity, they were bare –no books, school supplies, paper, just old wooden desks, one blackboard, cement floors and a teacher. Recess was outside on the red clay dirt. Their play equipment consisted of tattered jump ropes and maybe a few cans or balls to kick.

I noticed immediately, however, that everywhere-everywhere-the kids met me with smiles and hugs. These extraordinary children were friendly, open, affectionate and so appreciative. The minute they saw us coming, they would come running to greet us.

Once utilizing the XO laptop, I saw the classroom come alive with children working, engaged in their own education. They were sharing and creating together. Each click of the mouse was helping them become more connected both to the world and to a brighter future.

I had an experience at the Murambi School in Kigali for deaf and mute children that literally altered my life. As elsewhere, the kids came running to greet us that day. I visited classrooms and was mesmerized as they did lessons on their XO computers.

I saw the pride in their eyes as they discovered the right answers and demonstrated their programming skills. There was such excitement as the students received their backpacks and opened them to find the small items. By and large, the thing they were most grateful for was the personal note written by a child from the U.S. that I mentioned before. The students savored those cards-holding them as if they were golden. As one boy read his note, he looked up at me with tears, and held his card to his chest while pointing to his heart as a sign to let me know how much that note meant. In broken English he said, “thank you” as he stood up and hugged me with such gratitude. I just hugged him right back and cried.

I wished that American students could have seen the impact their simple, caring gesture had on the lives of the children in that classroom (you may visit to see images and footage from the trip).

The Betty Crocker “Win & Give” campaign is all about helping moms and kids realize that even the smallest of acts of giving can make a big difference. I’m so committed to this program and the power it has to change lives.

Giving back is part of my beliefs as I’m convinced it mobilizes children’s hearts and activates compassion. It’s a simple secret that opens up our children’s hearts.

As a mom, giving back to others is part of our family mantra and played a large role in how my husband and I raised our three boys. I’ve seen first-hand that when children see the incredible impact they can have on someone’s life, it empowers them to continue to give back and get involved. Best yet, the experience nurtures empathy and altruism-the seeds of humanity. Instilling altruistic values in kids helps them grow into kind, empathetic and respectful adults. Let’s make sure we adults give our kids the opportunity.

I will never forget the experience I had in Rwanda nor the children I met there.

Our kids-all children-deserve to know they can be heroes.